Five individuals charged in multi-million dollar money laundering conspiracy

Published 11:13 am Thursday, November 4, 2021

HOUSTON – A fifth individual has surrendered to authorities in relation to a multi-year, multi-million dollar money laundering conspiracy, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Jennifer B. Lowery.

Michael Dean Richards, 33, Frisco, is expected to appear for his initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Frances Stacy at 10 a.m. today. Authorities arrested Branden Denver Richards, 29, and Douglas Paul Michael Davis, 27, both residents of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, last week. They are also set to appear this morning. Vinh Quang Phan, 56, and Diana Le Phan, 44, both of Houston, are scheduled to appear in federal court next week.

A federal grand jury returned an 11-count superseding indictment Oct. 6 charging all five with conspiring to launder monetary instruments and conspiring to engage in monetary transactions in criminally derived property. The Phans are additionally charged with six counts of engaging in monetary transactions in criminally derived property, operation of an unlicensed money transmitting business and conspiracy to do so. Diana Le Phan has an additional charge of laundering monetary instruments.

According to the indictment, the Phans operated an unlicensed money transmitting business that transmitted funds received in the form of U.S. currency aka bulk cash. At least some of this money, including bulk cash received from Michael and Brandon Richards and Davis, allegedly constituted proceeds from the trafficking, distribution and sale of controlled substances.

During the course of the approximately 21-month conspiracy, the unlicensed money transmitting business received and transmitted more than $32 million, according to the charges.

After receiving the bulk cash, the indictment alleges the Phans either drove those funds across the country or introduced them into the banking system for transmission through bank accounts, virtual currency accounts and the purchase and transfer of virtual currency. To carry out the conspiracy, Vinh and Diana Phan allegedly used bank accounts and virtual currency accounts in their names, in the names of three businesses they registered with the state of Texas or in the names of co-conspirators. They did not register their money transmitting business with the Department of the Treasury, nor did the state of Texas license them to engage in money transmission, according to the charges.

All five face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of conspiracy to launder monetary instruments and a maximum of 10 years for conspiring to engage in monetary transactions in criminally derived property. The Phans also face up to five years in prison if convicted of conspiring to operate or operating an unlicensed money transmitting business.

IRS-Criminal Investigation and Drug Enforcement Administration conducted the investigation with assistance from the Houston Police Department as part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) and South Texas High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) Financial Crimes Task Force. OCDETF identifies, disrupts and dismantles the highest-level drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs and transnational criminal organizations that threaten the United States by using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies against criminal networks. Additional information about the OCDETF Program can be found on the Department of Justice’s OCDETF webpage.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Stephanie Bauman and Richard W. Bennett are prosecuting the cases.

An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.